Showing posts with label Promotions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Promotions. Show all posts

06 August 2018

Show Time!

by Steve Liskow

About a month ago, I joined eighteen other writers from Sisters in Crime (two others were men, too--we've learned not to call ourselves "male members") at the University of Connecticut branch of Barnes & Noble.

I've been trying to crack Barnes & Noble's resistance to self-published authors for several years, so I would have joined this event in any case, but there were a few planning glitches, probably because this particular store is quite new and the staff probably hasn't done anything of this scale before.

Obviously, getting 19 writers from three states together demands a weekend slot, but with a perfect beach day and thousands of people protesting the current administration's immigration policy only blocks away, I'm not sure we saw a dozen patrons in the three hours we were there. The store wanted us to introduce ourselves and read from our works, taking fifteen minutes each. That's 45 minutes longer than the event was scheduled to run. We convinced the store that five minutes each was better, and I cut my own slot to three minutes by explaining where I got the idea for my newest book, reading the cover blurb, and sitting down. I sold two books that day, and I'm not sure anyone sold more than that.

Everyone either learned or confirmed something from the experience.

I participate in three types of author events.

The mass author bash like the one above is my least favorite. If you put a lot of genre writers together, they nullify each other and nobody sells much. The readers have trouble keeping the writers straight, too, so they don't really connect with anyone, and that's the whole reason I do any event: to make friends with my potential readers.

When the day turns into a carnival, it's hard to remember that you're selling yourself more than you're selling your books. If people like you, they're more apt to buy your books, so I chat with as many  as I can. I bring lots of flyers, bookmarks, and business cards to plug my editing and workshops and make sure my roller ball has a fresh blue cartridge for signing copies. Swag is advertising, the sales pitch I don't have to make out loud.

In two weeks, I'll join four other Connecticut writers on a panel, but we represent cozy, historical, PI, and suspense stories so we don't get in each others' way. The library is beautiful and the staff is worth their weight in uncut cocaine. Unless we get a cloudburst (which happened two years ago), we'll have an enthusiastic audience full of thoughtful questions. We may even sell a few books on the spot. We'll certainly sell some in the aftermath.

Next month, I'll do a local author fair as a fund-raiser for another local library, and they do it up big. They charge a solid admission fee so the people are already prepared to spend money. The evening event features catering from an excellent local restaurant so patrons (and authors) get fed. They also have a cash bar, which seems to stimulate sales (heh-heh-heh). Two years ago, I shared a table with a former student who had a self-help book for sale, and we traded war stories between chats with friends of the library. Best writer's fair I've attended.

The second type of event, which I like marginally more, is the single-author appearance. Sinclair Lewis said that audiences attend events like this to see if the author is funnier in person than he is to read. After 35 years of teaching and community theater, I can do stand-up, but no matter how clearly (or not) the venue promotes you, half the people are upset to discover that you don't write poetry, history, memoir, romance, or cook books, or whatever their favorite happens to be.

I don't like reading from my books either, brilliant as they are and scintillating as I am in person. I prepare passages of about five minutes each, cutting as much description and exposition as I can so they're heavy on action and dialogue, but reading puts the pages between you and your audience. I'd rather take lots of questions and turn the event into a big conversation. Naturally, I bring all the Fabulous Parting Gifts to these events, too.

Workshops rock. They satisfy my teaching jones, they give me money whether I sell books or not, and people tend to talk them up to their aspiring writer friends...and come back for more.

I used to conduct workshops in several libraries around central Connecticut, but library budgets have been slashed over the last few years, so now I do smaller venues that support writing groups. Instead of a flat fee, the venue charges an admission price to each participant and we split. The groups are smaller, but that means everyone gets a chance to ask questions.

Sure, there's some prep involved. I load my workshops with hand-outs and make sure the venue has an easel or dry marker board (I can bring one if necessary). I make a point of including an unsigned evaluation form in the handouts so the participants can turn it in to the venue. That way, I get recommendations and ideas for improvements...or even new programs.

I never sell books directly. I sell myself. If people like me, they're more apt to buy a book, and they're even more likely to buy if they receive something in return (writing instruction). Generally, I sell more books at workshops than at a panel or reading (the fund-raiser I mentioned above is an exception). It used to be that I'd sell a book for every six people at a reading or panel and one
for every three people at a workshop. Both those numbers have dropped in the last couple of years, but I seem to sell more eBooks in the few weeks after an event than before.

How do you feel about events? Are your results different from mine?

09 October 2017

BSP For You & Me

by Steve Liskow

On the heels of Janice's excellent discussion of how to prepare for an interview...

This year has been a good one for short story sales (for me, anyway. Most of the other contributors to this blog sell more in any given month), but it's still stacking up as my first losing season since 2013.

Yes, I have more books available than I did then (so far, twelve novels and a collection of stories), but both my close friends know that the annual sales and royalties from those self-published books won't pay for our cats' prescription diets for a week.

The bulk of my writing income--and "bulk" is a misleading term here--comes from other sources, mostly editing and conducting writing workshops. Over the last two years, the State of Connecticut has been plagued with horrendous budget problems that have been passed on to libraries, where I usually hold those workshops. In 2015, I led sixteen sessions, my all-time high. This year, I did one in April and only had one more scheduled until last week. I know three other writers going through the same straits, and for the first time ever, we're competing with each other for the same few gigs.

How do you get more business without bumping off the competition?

Packaging.

Years ago, comedian Bill Dana, AKA "Jose Jimenez," had a routine in which the interviewer asked him, "How did you get the title 'King of the Surf?'" and he replied, "I had cards printed."


 That's not quite as outrageous now as it was then. We need to figure out the continuum of shrinking violet, effective promotion and obnoxious BSP. It's a fine line, and when you're offering to teach, it gets even finer.

Most people want to drive a car before they buy it. I have yet to buy a guitar online because I need to hear it and touch it first. It's the same with writing. People need to believe that you can help them write better, so you have to show them what's under your hood. Obviously, your own books can help, but some people don't have time to read them before hiring you.

When I began editing, I offered a freebie through Sisters in Crime. I would examine the first twenty-five pages of a manuscript for free to the first three respondents in exchange for a reference letter I could post on my website. The requests arrived in my email so quickly that I ended up reading five samples. Satisfied customers give you more cred than anything else. If you're a writer, nothing tops reviews from happy readers...except maybe blurbs from other writers who have a large following.

Those references are on my website, and I keep a printed copy for when I meet a librarian or--as happened last week--the head of a writer's retreat that plans to open this month.

I also bring blurbs that better-known writers (practically everyone) wrote for me. These are people I met at various conferences. In a few cases they mentored me or led workshops I attended. Reviews written by a real person, especially a legitimate critic or Publishers Weekly or Kenyon Review mean a lot, too. I print out a list of my awards and nominations because they mean that someone who knows the business thinks I won't stink up the joint. Besides, it's great being able to say I lost an award to Karin Slaughter or Dennis Lehane.

Be flexible. I have a printed description of my workshops and can make them last from about sixty to ninety minutes by encouraging more questions or giving people more time to work on the activities I include. I taught high school English for thirty-three years, so I know how to create a decent worksheet.

One of the first rules of grant writing is that you have to show how the public will benefit, and it's the same here. You're working with the library, bookstore or other venue. Remember the new writers retreat I mentioned above? Instead of charging my usual fee for workshops, they will charge the students and we will split the fee. I'll get less money than usual, but the Story Teller's Cottage will get some money in the coffers right away, which means they can grow...and invite me back again. You can spend "less," but try spending "nothing."

I gave the new director some of my business cards (yes, thank you, Bill Dana), which mention my editing. I gave her several bookmarks, too. The front is a head shot with my website and Facebook page. Easy to read, and won't need updating. I can use it forever, especially since I don't plan to age at all. Ever. I assembled the list of books on the back three years ago when I had the titles but they weren't out yet. Planning that far in advance meant I could buy the bookmarks in bulk (lower price) and use them longer. Starving writers go for cheap, OK?

The bookmark serves two purposes First, it shows people that, yes, I did write a book, which suggests what's under the hood. Giving the titles means people can find the books and read them, which does even more of that.

Sure, it's creating an image, but it's also content and credibility. I don't wear a tie when I meet people, but I don't wear cut-offs and a Playboy tee shirt either.

I've learned to ask a few questions, too. These help the venue and me work together and help that professional image again.

Do you have Wi-fi? Most places do, but I'm beginning to sell more books at events by card than by cash, so it's good to know, especially if I post the event on my website or Facebook page. If you take a credit card, it suggests that you're a "real" business, too.

Will you print out my handouts? If the venue takes registration in advance, they know how many copies they need. That means I don't show up with a bunch of extras I'll have to recycle. It also means that if someone decides to attend at the session at the last minute, the venue can print up more copies and I don't have to ask someone to share.

Do you have an easel or dry marker board (I hate power point!)? I can bring one, which shows I have my own equipment, but it's easier if you have to cart less stuff around.

Finally, I encourage librarians and other people to take pictures I can use on my sites for further credibility. But do I really look that funny?

Yes, it's BSP, but it gets your foot in the door. And the best promotion in the world won't hide a lousy workshop.

Does this all work? I picked up three workshops last week. They satisfy my teaching Jones. And since this is a new venue and we're guessing at the best times and days for the sessions, I'm adding an evaluation sheet that asks participants about the format, content, presentation, time and space. It also asks if they'd like to take another workshop. Criticism and suggestions are how you get better.

The Story Tellers Cottage (check their website and Facebook page) held their open house last Saturday, and I made a point of showing up with more bookmarks and to meet more people. They're doing the same thing I am, but they're taking a bigger risk, so they have fewer chances to get it right.

I think they're on the right track.


26 December 2016

The Name Game: Titles

by Steve Liskow

Titles matter. What would have become of the Dr. Seuss Christmas classic if he'd called it "The Tale of the Green Monkey-like Creature Who Decided to Be Mean and Steal Presents from a Small Village"? Obviously, we'll never know, but is there anyone under the age of five who hasn't seen or read How The Grinch Stole Christmas?

I'm still amazed that one of the major plays of the 1960s, The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade, ever reached the stage, mostly because the title was too long to fit on theater marquees. Most people can't give you the full title, but theater groupies call it Marat/Sade, which does fit on most posters. Not that anyone performs the play anymore.

So, what is a good title and how do you come up with it?

A good title catches the reader's eye and tells her something about the story. If the book is part of a series, the title should announce that, too. John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee series used designer colors: copper, azure, crimson. The early Ellery Queen mysteries featured a nationality: The Chinese Orange Mystery, The Roman Hat Mystery, The Siamese Twin Mystery and so on. Sue Grafton's alphabet titles are approaching "Z" and Janet Evanovich is up to number twenty-three. A letter means Kinsey Milhone, and a number tells us Stephanie Plum is back.

Hank Phillippi Ryan's Charlie McNally novels all use a monosyllable followed by "Time." Drive Time, Face Time, etc. Lynne Heitman's books about former airline executive Alex Shanahan are Hard Landing, Tarmac, and First Class Killing. Karin Slaughter often uses one-word titles that suggest violence: Fractured, Criminal, Fallen, Broken, Undone.

Early on, my cover designer told me short is better, not just because it's punchier, but because it's easier to fit the words around other artwork.

Simple, huh?

But what if you don't have a series yet? OK, what's a major event or object in your story? Use it. That's how we got Rear Window, Mystic River and The Maltese Falcon. Maybe you can refer to a character, as Carol O'Connell does in Mallory's Oracle and The Judas Child. Thomas Perry does it with The Butcher's Boy, and Elmore Leonard gave us Up in Heidi's Room and Get Shorty. Using a character for the title goes clear back to the Greek tragic poets Oedipus the King, Electra), and Shakespeare named many of his plays after characters (extra credit question: name all twenty-seven of them).

If you don't want to use a character, how about a literary allusion? For centuries, authors have looked to the Bible or mythology for ideas. The Sun Also Rises, Ulysses, Tree of Smoke and Lilies of the Field are among zillions of them. Later writers referred to earlier writers: Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd (Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard"), Thackery's Vanity Fair (Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress) Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath ("Battle Hymn of the Republic") and thousands of Shakespeare quotes. At one time, I could assign my classes fourteen different works with titles that came from Macbeth, including Frost's "Out, Out--," Anne Sexton's All My Pretty Ones, Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, and Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes. Robert Penn Warren, Mary Higgins Clark, and Jonathan Kellerman are among those who tape into children's rhymes: All The King's Men, All Through the House, Along Came a Spider...

Many contemporary writers use song or movie titles because they carry emotional links for people of their own generation (Who were you killing when this was Number One?). The late Ed Gorman used oldies, such as Wake Up Little Susie,
and Sandra Scoppetone uses twists on big band tunes, including Gonna Take a Homicidal Journey. Evan Lewis pays homage to earlier mystery writers with a play on Dashiell Hammett: "The Continental Opposite."

My wife hated the original title of my first novel, and she must have been right because every agent this side of the Asteroid Belt turned it down. She finally convinced me to change it, and we agreed on Who Wrote the Book of Death? The play on the song title suggests violence and the story involves writers using pseudonyms. I liked the first title, too, but maybe nobody else remembers Vaughn Monroe.

What was that title? Ghost Writers in the Sky.

When I got the idea for a novel that involved rock and roll, I began a still-growing list of song titles as starting points. Most of my stories use songs that suggest the story line, including "Running On Empty," about a couple discussing their crumbling marriage while driving, and "Stranglehold," about a guitar player who is accused of throttling a singer with a guitar string. The first rock and roll mystery became Blood on the Tracks, a Bob Dylan LP in the 70s, and the PI eventually became Chris "Woody" Guthrie.

The sequel was going to be Hot Rod Lincoln. Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen recorded the song in Detroit, where the story took place, so I thought it was perfect. But the car thief in question became a minor character in the revisions and my cover designer and I struggled for the flip side. We tried most of the other car songs we could think of: Spring Little Cobra, Little GTO, Little Red Corvette (Why are they always little?) and they just got worse and worse. Pink Cadillac? Neh. My designer suggested Hyundai Bloody Hyundai, which we loved even though we knew it was only a place-holder.

At the last minute, my wife--the brains of the outfit if you haven't guessed already--came up with the winner: Oh Lord, Won't You Steal Me a Mercedes Benz. The caper involves a car thief, a stolen Mercedes, an embezzled fortune, and a pregnant stripper, so the title captures everything we needed. As the Three Stooges would say, Poifect!
My genius cover designer put up with a nine-word title because he could arrange the short words around the strong graphic he'd already chosen.

Remember, you can't copyright a title, so you could call your book David Copperfield or The Great Gatsby if you wanted to--although I wouldn't recommend it. Ditto Gotterdammerung. And you can uses a working title while you hammer out your first draft and change it when you discover what the story is really about. Most of my works are out there in at least their second title, and some their third or fourth. My most recent novel, Dark Gonna Catch Me Here (a line from Robert Johnson's "Crossroads Blues"), may be the only book that kept the same title from the very beginning.

Who knows? Maybe I'm finally learning how to do it.

Now, how do YOU pick your titles?

04 August 2014

Outside the Box… umm… the Store

Jan Grapeby Jan Grape

When it comes time to set up a signing for your new book, your first book or your latest book. Why not try some creative thinking?

There's no set rule that you MUST do a signing in a bookstore.  Of course, I'm not saying to leave your favorite mystery bookstore or even your favorite big box bookstore. Just wanting you to think a little outside the box for extras.

When we owned Mysteries & More, I had several signings there for my anthologies and for my non-fiction edited books, The Art of Murder and Deadly Women. I enjoyed signing at my own store and I also signed in Houston at Murder by the Book. I signed at mystery bookstores in Dallas, San Diego, Kansas City, Scottsdale, Bethesda, St. Louis,  and New York City. I was determined to help my fellow writers and my fellow independent bookstore owners sell a few books even if I didn't have a novel published. I'd set up signings with other anthology authors, authors who did have a novel out, and my co-editors. Usually we did panels talking about writing. By having three or four authors, the crowd will grow larger because of each person's fan following.

I tried to come up with promotional items to give to customers and bookstore owners for myself and others. When we operated the store we got many, many promo items. There were writing pens and pencils, key chains, postcards, bookmarks, caps, t-shirts, coozies, little pins to wear that had the book covers on it.  I wrote a few weeks ago about the little rubber jar opener promoting Deadly Women that I came up with and it was a hit. Eileen Dreyer gave away a ball point pen that looked like an actual hypodermic syringe filled with medicine, which was the blue ink. Promotions are good ideas to give away but how about where you hold a signing?

My first book came out and I decided to have a launch party at the bowling center where I'd bowled in leagues for years. They had a party room and we sent out invitations and an awesome crowd showed up… about sixty people, I think.

The beauty salon where I had my hair done wanted to host a book signing party for me. I said, sure, why not? Three years later when my second book came out, we had moved into our RV full time and traveled in the summer, but came back to the Hill Country in the fall and winter. Once again, I did a signing at a bowling center where we now bowled.

When we still owned the bookstore, a writer friend, the late Nancy Bell, was the house mother of a sorority house at the University of Texas for ten years. When her first book came out, we had her launch party for her first book at the sorority house.

Another creative place I had a signing was at the SPA Yoga center where I go. I once also signed on the patio of a restaurant and inside the same restaurant when the next book came out.

I've signed four years at a music festival that a singer/songwriter hosted several years and always invited book writers along with the musicians he invited.

Guess you get the idea that you can do book signings almost anywhere. All you need is a willing host,  a rather busy location and someone to sell the books for you. If you don't have a local indie bookstore who will order books for you, last resort order them from your publisher yourself. But you usually don't get credit for books sold if you, the author buys from the publisher. Just think outside the box… uh store and sell those books.

Groaner of the day: How many mystery writers does it take to change a light bulb?
Two, —  one to screw it almost all the way and the other to give it a surprising twist at the end.

21 April 2014

Shameless Promotions


Jan Grape
SHAMELESS PROMOTIONS

by Jan Grape

A few years ago, the Sisters In Crime organization published a little booklet titled, "Shameless Promotion For Brazen Hussies."  I don't know if they still have it in their publications. I couldn't fine it listed on their website publications but I'll briefly talk a bit about promotions. This will have to be a short article because I'm dealing with vertigo and don't know how long I can last here. Most of my problem is what I've discovered on google. It does have a name, Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo. It mainly happens for only seconds when I lay down or get up from that position. And it's an inner ear problem.  Okay class, back to promotions.

Some of the information in the booklet will more or less be out of date now, however, there are a few ideas that might help. If you can come up with a clever idea to give to bookstores, book buyers and fans that promotes your book and you have a little money to spend on your book, then by all means do it.

For example: a few years ago, Dean James and I co-edited a book titled DEADLY WOMEN. It had interviews, articles and histories about, written by, for and featuring women mystery authors. For some reason I came up with the idea of a pink record using the known duo of surfer singers Jan and Dean. I mean Dean and I just happened to have the perfect names for that. We had a jar gripper opener made (you know those little rubber thingies that help you grip the lid of a jar to open it.) Any way it was a pink square with black lettering. I found a company that made promotional ideas for companies. The middle of the gripper had what looked like a black 45 rpm (anyone remember those) record. Around the center hole of the record was printed "The best of Jan & Dean. '97" In tiny font on one side of the middle hole of the record was printed Published by Carroll & Graf.  Opposite that was printed Due Date, November '97. At the bottom of the record and underneath the center hole was printed DEADLY WOMEN and under that in smaller font it said, with Ellen Nehr. (Ellen had originally been scheduled to edit with me, but she passed away and we tagged Dr. Dean James, who at that time was a co-manager of Murder By The Book bookstore in Houston, TX. My husband and I owned Mysteries & More bookstore in Austin. Outside the printed black record in one diagonal corner of the gripper was printed "Get A Grip" with the ISBN number of the book. Again the book title, DEADLY WOMEN in a larger font than on the record was on the opposite corner. And underneath that in smaller font, Edited by Dean James and Jan Grape with Ellen Nehr. Across the bottom of the gripper, again in smaller font was printed: The Major Surfers and not "a little ole lady among them." Underneath that still in the small font but in all caps: Mary Higgins Clark, Elizabeth Peters, Margaret Maron, Marcia Muller, Nancy Pickard, Minette Walters, Joan Hess and many more of today's top mystery authors. We ordered 500 I think, because it was cheaper. We mailed them to bookstores, took them to conventions and handed them out handed them out at book signings. I still run into someone who says they still have their jar gripper. I still have mine and would show you a picture of it if I knew how to scan with this computer. I can't even get it to print.  I love to hate technology.

Alright you say, but that was years ago. What about nowadays? Two items I got recently that had nothing to do with books but were items that are quite useful and there's no reason you couldn't come up with something similar. First I have a little fan that is shaped like a Frisbee but is flexible. It's metal edges twist into a little round thing about the size of a drink coaster and now fits into a little bag to be slipped in your purse or shirt pocket. When needed you pull it out of the bag and it pops open. It's an advertisement for a legal document website. It came in green and in purple. I have one of each. It's probably more useful for a female than a male yet it's very handy. The other useful item (and from two different advertisers) is those little microfiber type cloth glasses lens cleaners. One is from the same legal document website and the other is from a bank where I have an account. All you have to do is go online and look for promotional items online and come up with a useful item and have your book cover printed on it along with due date, ordering information, etc.

When we had our bookstore we got author postcards, bookmarks, pens, pencils, drink cozies, key rings, a couple of ball caps, T-shirts, pins with book covers and a huge assortment of promotional materials. I can say without a doubt, booksellers are thrilled to have little promo items like this. And so are your readers. You can give away a smaller item like a No. 2 pencil or an emery board to everyone who drops by your signing and save your larger items like caps, cozies and such for the people who actually buy your books. Is it worth spending money on items like this? I think so if you really want to have your name and your book title to get word of mouth recognition. And bookmarks are still useful items.

If you're doing a signing at a book store or an event, it's especially nice if you have a poster made they can put on display prior to your signing. Be sure to add the day and time and location of your signing. Even during the signing, if the store will put the poster on an easel or close to the signing table. Most print shops will do those large blow-up picture sizes for you and you can attach to a poster board.  Often the best thing is to ask your publisher to do some blow-ups for you. It doesn't really cost them that much to do it.

Now the other main thing in my opinion is to do something especially nice for the book store where you are signing. If there's is a female you have been dealing with, how about taking her a rosebud or two?  If it's a man who is the signing coordinator, how about some fresh baked cookies or candy?
You really want your bookstore to be happy you were there, especially if it's your local bookstore and even more especially if it's an independent bookstore. At least two months before the signing, send a press kit to the store with a recent photo of yourself and either an ARC or if the book is out, a copy of the book. If possible send a press kit to your local newspaper. I know newspapers are slowly dying out but most cities and towns still have one. They might do a write up on you. To increase your chances, tell them a little something about your book so they might find a hook and do a story. If your character is a lawyer or a doctor find something different to make your book more interesting than others. Like if your character has a memory problem, send some memory tags that the character uses to help. Or if your character is a jazz lover, you're probably already a minor expert on jazz and can write a paragraph or two to send with your press kit.

Use your imagination. You're a creative person. I know an author who had baked goods or cookies to all her bookstore signings. She shipped them to the stores who were out of town. Her main character was a caterer and she generally had recipes in her book. The first time Mysteries and More had Sue Grafton sign at our store, she suggested we advertise a peanut butter and pickle sandwich contest for fans and she would taste, declare a winner and then our store gave an autographed copy of the book. I think it was for L. For those of you who are not Grafton fans, her character Kinsey Millhone LOVES peanut butter and pickle sandwiches and often eats them. It was a big success. We probably had a dozen or so entrants, Sue dutifully tasted each one and found her winner. People called and asked if they should use smooth or crunchy PB and what kind of pickle, sweet or dill or what. She had said to tell them to use whatever they liked or what appealed to them.

And last, but not least, if you have a bookstore signing, don't forget to write a thank you note. Same with a newspaper or magazine reporter. Do whatever you can to get word of mouth going about your book. I think you can get more sales from that than from all the social media. But of course, do the social media too.